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From ‘mum’s taxi’ to money-maker: how a Melbourne family put their under-used cars to work

Ellen earns over $8,000 a year sharing the family's van and car when they are not using them. Ellen says “I love that I don’t feel guilty seeing them just sit there not being used.”

Kate Trumbull

Some days, Ellen forgets she has two cars - they’re so rarely in her driveway. It’s a far cry from what she calls the ‘guilty years’, when her van and car would sit idle in the driveway for weeks at a time while she and her family walked, rode or used public transport to get around Melbourne.

Soon after moving to their new house in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, Ellen realised she had something other people in her neighbourhood wanted: a van! Her family no longer needed to use it on a daily basis, so Ellen wondered if there was a way to rent her car to her neighbours.

“It’s really handy to have a van now and then - but also a waste of money if you’re not using it regularly. Rather than sell, I decided that I would rent my van out. I wanted to see if we could cover the costs with the earnings, but still have it there to use when we needed it.”

Ellen’s van proved to be very popular: it was booked out almost constantly, right from the start. This early success prompted Ellen to add her 7-seater ‘Mum’s Taxi’ to the Car Next Door platform too.

“We bought the 7-seater so that we could go on family trips with our kids and parents. We’ve travelled to the Great Ocean Road and around Victoria. It’s also great for ferrying the kids and their friends around.”

While the 7-seater is the family’s main car, there are occasionally weekends or longer periods when they’re not using it and it would otherwise sit idle.

“It makes so much sense to share our cars when we’re not using them. Other people have used the 7-seater to collect their friends from the airport or go on family holidays. It feels really good to be able to help our neighbours do those things.”

In the three years that they’ve been shared, Ellen’s family cars have helped over 500 people get around, heading out on over 700 trips in total.

“Our cars have become so popular that there are some months when they’re hardly at home. I love that I don’t feel guilty seeing them just sit there not being used.”

By keeping her cars in good order, ensuring they’re left clean and tidy after each use and being available to answer borrowers’ questions, Ellen has built a community of loyal borrowers who keep coming back to hire her cars time and time again.

Money Matters

Whilst Ellen had never planned to make money on her cars, she and her husband are pretty happy with their earnings, which serve to offset the ongoing running costs.

Each month, the van earns around $1,100 after Car Next Door’s commission. The running and standing costs add up to around $400, leaving around $700 (or $8,400 a year) to contribute to the family budget.

Income from renting your car out is taxable, but annual costs like registration, servicing and insurance that the family would have to pay anyway are also deductible in proportion to the car’s use for sharing.

The seven-seater, which is used most days by the family and so only available occasionally for bookings, brings in just under $3,000 a year after accounting for the extra running costs from Borrowers’ trips. That’s enough to cover its registration costs and insurance - effectively meaning that the family car is paying for itself.

“Registering, insuring and servicing two cars is a big expense each year. By renting my cars out when our family’s not using them, we have been able to cover the running costs plus make some money on the side.”

With over three years’ experience in renting out their cars, Ellen and her husband are considering buying another van to add to the platform.

When it comes to pricing, Ellen aims to keep her cars affordable and has settled on a rate that maximises her bookings but still covers her costs. As she sees it: “There’s no point having the car sit there unused for days for the sake of $5.”

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Location! Location!

Ellen jokes that they don’t need to worry too much about parking, because their cars are rarely ever home. When they’re not out with a Borrower or being used by the family, they are parked on the street and driveway at home.

“We’re really mindful of our neighbours and try to keep our van and car as close to home as possible so they don’t get annoyed. If we get another van, we’ll probably park it at a friend's house so we don’t have three cars in the street.”

Although they didn’t plan it, Ellen and her husband found that their neighbourhood of young families and renovators was the ideal place to have a van and a 7-seater.

“Lots of people want practical vehicles like utes, vans and 7-seaters but because they only need one every now and then, they don’t want to buy one. Borrowing from a neighbour just around the corner or up the street is the perfect solution” shares Ellen.

A side income that doesn’t take centre stage

As a busy mum working from home, Ellen’s quick to tell us that one of the best things about sharing her car using the Car Next Door platform is how little work she has to do.

Ellen admits that she over-delivers on her customer service and always makes sure she makes the time to chat to her borrowers and responds to phone calls when the car is in use. Even if borrowers could have found the answers on the App or in an email, she feels that it’s this personal service that makes her customers feel like friends and keeps them returning.

“I give the car a once over after it’s been returned to make sure the borrower has left it clean and tidy and ready for the next person.” Ellen shares. “But everything else - the insurance, roadside assistance and bookings - are all handled by Car Next Door. I like the fact that I don’t need to remember to pay the e-tag toll bills, and the secure lockbox means I don’t have to be home to hand over keys. All I really need to do is take the cars to be serviced.”

Ellen says that over the years her car has sustained minor damage a couple of times, but each time Car Next Door has been quick to arrange the repairs and collect payment from the borrower responsible.

“I think it’s important to realise it’s a car, not a baby. If it gets scratched, it can be fixed. You don’t need to stress about it.”

Ellen’s Top Tips#

Ellen’s top three pieces of advice for families looking to try Car Next Door on for size:

  1. Be prepared for your car to be busy. If you have a van, ute or 7-seater, you may find it’s not home very often! Plan ahead and block out the times you need to use your own car.
  2. If you want to earn a lot, share a lot. If you have a second car that you rarely use, renting it out could cover the costs as well as bringing in a little boost to the family finances. You’re not likely to earn your fortune sharing your family car if you use regularly and it's rarely available for bookings, but it’s a great way to offset or eliminate one of a household’s biggest expenses.
  3. **Communication with your customers is important. **Sometimes borrowers are forgetful, or ask things they probably should have read in an email. We’re all human. Don’t get stressed: just be nice and answer their question.

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